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Raanta's 32 saves help Blackhawks blank Flyers

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- It wasn't a complete game, but it was the best the Chicago Blackhawks have played this season by far.

In fact, their performance in a 4-0 victory Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers at United Center almost overshadowed the play of backup goalie Antti Raanta, who earned his second career shutout in an unexpected season debut while filling in for injured Corey Crawford.

"I thought it was our best game," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we were better in all aspects of our game and more consistent throughout the game. I think you can look at all areas tonight and we were pretty pleased."

After struggling to score the previous two games despite dominating other offensive statistics, the Blackhawks (4-0-1) broke through with three first-period goals against the Flyers (1-3-2). They led 3-0 on the scoreboard and 19-9 in shots after 20 minutes and never let Philadelphia get off the canvas.

They went 2-for-4 on power plays, outshot the Flyers 43-32, continued to control puck possession and stormed the net the way Quenneville demanded.

Raanta dazzled in his first regular-season action since April 12. Chicago's second-year backup goalie made 32 saves filling in for Crawford, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury and might not join the Blackhawks for the start of their two-game road trip Thursday against the Nashville Predators. Raanta was sharp from beginning to end, making several key stops to preserve the three-goal lead he was given.

"Sometimes when the game is 3-0 after two periods, then the third one can go a little bit like, 'Just play it out,'" Raanta said. "So, we [played] a good 60 minutes. The last 10 minutes of the third period were really good, so that helped us."

Steve Mason made 39 saves for the Flyers, who didn't get top-pair defenseman Braydon Coburn back from a lower-body injury as expected. Coburn has been out since getting injured in a 2-1 loss Oct. 8 in Philadelphia's season-opening game at the Boston Bruins.

Since then, the Flyers have allowed 4.6 goals per game. They've also allowed five power-play goals in 17 chances through six games.

"I think, with their power play, it was only a matter of time, but we have to do a better job," Mason said. "Our penalty kill needs to be a strong point and right now it's not. Terrible (first) period. Everybody in the room knows it. The coaching staff made that clear."

Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad and Bryan Bickell scored in the first period for the Blackhawks. Each goal came with traffic around the net, something that was noticeably lacking in previous games.

Quenneville challenged his team to get better at the dirty work down low, and they responded, hounding loose pucks around the net and creating traffic in front of Mason most of the game.

"I think three of our goals were right on the net and the other one was right off the rush [by Bickell], a nice play," said Kane, who scored twice Tuesday on the power play from right near the net. "It's huge to get people to the net, especially on the power play when we're taking shots and there's a bunch of rebounds there."

Saad's goal, scored at 11:54 of the first for a 1-0 lead, was a classic blue-collar goal. After Mason made a save on his initial attempt, Saad hung around while Mason made two more saves off rebounds.

The puck slid slowly between Mason's pads after his third save in the sequence and came to a stop just outside the goal line without the goalie noticing. Saad, standing just to the left of the crease, saw it right away. He and Bickell charged for it, with Saad barely beating his teammate to the puck for his first goal of the season.

Kane scored 32 seconds later to make it 2-0 off a power play created when Philadelphia forward Michael Raffl was whistled for a kneeing penalty in the Flyers offensive zone.

A long slap shot from the blue line by Patrick Sharp missed wide, and the puck caromed out to Kane, who put it into the net from close range.

Philadelphia coach Craig Berube used his timeout after Kane's first goal, but Bickell made it 3-0 64 seconds later, at 14:00. After Saad hit him in stride with a pass off the rush, Bickell scored his first goal of the season with a hard wrist shot from the slot.

It was the second goal for Chicago's third line, which Quenneville first put together in practice Monday by sliding Saad from left wing on the second line to right wing with Bickell and center Brad Richards.

The new third line paid immediate dividends, with two goals, five points and six of Chicago's 19 shots in the first period.

"I thought we had some guys play the way we were hoping," said Quenneville, who had a talk with Bickell prior to the game about using his big frame more like a power forward. "The [Bickell], Richards and Saad line was very good for us."

The Flyers came out with more energy in the second and earned more time with the puck in the offenzive zone. They outshot the Blackhawks 10-8, but Raanta came up big with several saves to keep it 3-0 headed to the third.

Raanta was strong in goal again in the third, making 13 saves. Kane put on the finishing touch with his second power-play goal at 3:50. It was his third goal of the season.

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